A not-so-surprising Heisman Trophy first in NFC Championship Game

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The NFL’s conference championship weekend is set with another bout between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the AFC and the top two teams in the NFC, Arizona and Carolina, going toe-to-toe for the NFC championship. While there will be plenty of attention given to yet another meeting between Manning and Brady, the NFC Championship Game is making some history with a college football twist. With Cam Newton of the Panthers and Carson Palmer of the Cardinals set to start in the NFC Championship Game, we will see the first NFL postseason meeting between two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

At first glance, that comes across as a surprising factoid to consume, but it should not come across as a major shock. Given the track record of Heisman Trophy winner sin the NFL, we already know the Heisman Trophy is far from a guarantee for sustained NFL success. This is especially true for quarterbacks, although the jury is still out on a number of the more recent Heisman-winning QBs (Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota offer some good promise, and who knows if there is still time to save Robert Griffin III, for example). Also keep in mind that for the majority of the history of the Heisman Trophy, running backs were the dominant position before the turn of the 21st century gave way to quarterbacks taking control of the award more often than not.

Take a look through Heisman history and look at the quarterbacks who have won the stiff-arm trophy over the years. Just two quarterbacks won the award in the 1960s, Navy’s Roger Staubach and Notre Dame’s John Huarte. Staubach went on to have a stellar career. Huarte? Not so much. Two quarterbacks won the Heisman in the 1970s, and once again the careers of Jim Plunkett of Stanford and Pat Sullivan of Auburn took drastically different paths. Of the three quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy in the 1980s (Doug Flutie, Andre Ware, Vinny Testaverde), only Miami’s Testaverde proved to have a sustained NFL career, which included a couple of solid runs here and there, but he almost never faced another Heisman-winning QB during his lengthy career.

The 1990s saw four quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy. Ty Detmer was essentially a career backup. Gino Torretta‘s run in the NFL was brief. Danny Wuerffel did not fare too much better. And Charlie Ward went on to play in the NBA instead of the NFL. Ward may have been the best NFL QB out of that bunch had he focused on the NFL instead.

Even the quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy since 2000 have been farther from competing for an NFL conference championship more often than not. This weekend, 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer just won his first postseason game as a starting quarterback since blowing out Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl. 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke has an NFC Championship ring, but that came as a backup. 2001 winner Eric Crouch played four years in the NFL with three teams and ended his playing career in the short-lived UFL with the Omaha Nighthawks. 2003 winner Jason White was not even drafted and stepped away due to bad knees. 2004 winner Matt Leinart never lived up to his perceived potential in Arizona and moved on to Houston, Oakland and Buffalo before getting into TV. 2006 winner Troy Smith was a career back-up, for the most part, behind Steve McNair and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Sam Bradford has been plagued by injuries and Robert Griffin III is looking to rejuvenate his career in a new situation in 2016. And I’m even going to spare you the talk about Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel.

One more piece of information to keep in mind was the AFC and NFC Championship Game structure was not utilized until 1970 when the NFL merged with the AFL. For an award that was first handed out in 1935, that cuts out a number of quarterbacks from even having the possibility to play in an NFL conference championship game (Davey O’BrienAngelo Bertelli, Lee Horvath, Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung, Terry Baker).

So yes, it is surprising we have not seen a matchup of Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in an NFL postseason game before, but it is not at all shocking given the history of the Heisman Trophy. And no, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady never won the Heisman Trophy either.

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank transfers to Rutgers

Wisconsin receiver Aron Cruickshank is transferring to Rutgers.
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Former Wisconsin wide receiver Aron Cruickshank may be leaving the Badgers, but he will remain in the Big Ten. Cruickshank announced he is transferring to Rutgers.

Cruickshank confirmed his transfer to Rutgers with a post on his Instagram account on Saturday afternoon. According to NJ.com, Cruickshank was making an official visit to Rutgers this weekend. The visit must have gone well because he announced his transfer decision on the same day. Cruickshank announced his entry to the transfer portal earlier this month.

This is a nice addition for new (again) Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano. If the hiring of Schiano was supposed to entice more talent in and around The Garden State to want to stay close to home to play Big Ten football, then the transfer decision of Cruickshank is an encouraging start for the Scarlet Knights. Cruickshank is a Brooklyn, New York native, and Rutgers does love to attach itself to the New York metropolitan region.

Cruickshank appeared in all 14 games played by Wisconsin in the 2019 season, including all 12 regular-season games, the Big Ten championship game, and the Rose Bowl. Cruickshank was used mostly on special teams with 23 kickoff returns for 674 yards and two touchdowns. Cruickshank had one of his kickoff touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. He returned four kickoffs for 194 yards in the game. He also returned one kickoff to the house earlier in the season at Nebraska.

Cruickshank will have to sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer rules. That will leave the former Badgers receiver with two years of eligibility beginning in 2021.

Texas brings Jay Boulware home from Oklahoma

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Jay Boulware is crossing sides in the Red River Rivalry… again. Boulware officially joined the Texas coaching staff on Saturday, the school announced. Boulware will be the special teams and tight ends coach for the Longhorns.

“Jay is a proven, accomplished coach and special teams coordinator who as a former Longhorn and Texas native, has deep roots in our state,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said in a released statement. “He also has extensive experience coaching in the Big 12, having spent a decade in our league, and has worked with teams that have competed at the highest level, including a National Championship team at Auburn in 2010.”

“I’ve been watching this program from afar since the day I left there in the spring of 1997, and I’ve always had it in my mind that I would like to come back someday and help Texas win a National Championship,” Boulware said in his released statement.

Boulware comes to Texas from rival Oklahoma. Boulware coached with the Sooners from 2013 through last season and was a part of multiple Big 12 championship teams and a program that participated in the College Football Playoff each of the past two seasons. Boulware was Oklahoma’s special teams and running backs during the last seven seasons. HE previously coached tight ends at Texas, NIU, Arizona, Utah, and Auburn.

Boulware started his coaching career as a graduate assistant with the Longhorns in 2014. He eventually was named tight ends coach and spent three seasons with his alma mater (Boulware played offensive tackle for Texas in 1991 and 1992). His coaching stops have included Northern Illinois, Arizona, Stanford, Utah and Iowa State, where he joined Gene Chizik and followed him to Auburn. In 2013, Boulware was hired by Wisconsin to be a part of a new staff being compiled by Gary Andersen, but he left the Badgers for Oklahoma just months later.

Clemson DT Xavier Kelly announces entry to transfer portal

Clemson redshirt junior Xavier Kelly will leave Clemson as a graduate transfer.
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Defensive tackle Xavier Kelly will no longer be a part of the Clemson football program. The redshirt junior announced he has entered the NCAA transfer portal and will look for another school to wrap up his collegiate career.

“I have never shied away from hard work or a challenge. My time at Clemson was a challenge that I happily accepted, [and I] worked hard to be the best defensive lineman, teammate and student I could be,” Kelly said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Saturday afternoon.

“With this being said, I have decided to enter the transfer portal and continue my football career elsewhere. It is an honor to be able to say that I graduated from Clemson. Clemson will always have a special place in my heart.”

Kelly was listed third on the Clemson depth chart for one of the team’s two defensive tackle positions. Kelly appeared as a backup option behind freshman Tyler Davis and redshirt sophomore Jordan Williams. Kelly appeared in 10 games in the 2019 season and recorded a total of six tackles with credit for half of a sack. Kelly did not play in either of Clemson’s game sin the College Football Playoff.

In 2016, Kelly was involved in a moped accident that resulted in stitches. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said at the time Kelly was not wearing a helmet when somebody crashed into his moped.

By entering the transfer portal, Kelly is free to have contact with any other college football program interested in recruiting him. As a graduate transfer, Kelly will be able to use his final year of eligibility in 2020 and will not have to sit out the 2019 season.

Bob Shoop and Brian Jean-Mary join Michigan coaching staff, Jay Harbaugh promoted to special teams coordinator

Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop are the newest members of Michigan's coaching staff.
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Michigan has officially introduced two new defensive assistants to the staff. Brian Jean-Mary and Bob Shoop were added to the defensive side of the coaching staff on Saturday as Michigan continues to retool its coaching staff this offseason.

According to the release from Michigan on Saturday, Shoop will take on the role of safeties coach for the Wolverines. Jean-Mary will serve as linebackers coach. In addition, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh promoted his son, Jay Harbaugh, to special teams coordinator. Harbaugh will continue to coach the running backs as well.

“I am excited about the addition of Brian and Bob to our defensive coaching staff,” said Harbaugh. “Brian and Bob are well-respected, experienced coaches who represent great fits for the University of Michigan. Both coaches have experience coordinating some of the best defenses in the country, and their development of all-conference and future NFL players throughout their careers will benefit our program and student-athletes. Michigan Football looks forward to having Brian, Bob and their families join the University family.”

Jean-Mary joins the Michigan program after three seasons with former USF head coach Charlie Strong at USF. Jean-Mary has been a longtime assistant under Strong, coaching with Strong at Louisville and Texas prior to USF.

Shoop previously was the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. This will mark a return to the Big Ten for Shoop. Shoop previously coached at Penn State under James Franklin. Shoop went to Penn State with Franklin after three seasons at Vanderbilt. Shoop left Penn State for Tennessee after the 2015 season and coached the Vols defense for two seasons for former Tennessee head coach Butch Jones. Shoop and Penn State also carried on a bit of a legal squabble over Shoop’s contract and his exit from the Nittany Lions. Shoop took a job at Mississippi State when Joe Moorhead was hired (in the same coaching carousel that saw a coaching change at Tennessee and the hiring of Jeremy Pruitt, a former defensive coordinator himself).